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We’ve locked down the economy instead of the virus.
Jobs are recovering slower in New York and other states holding on to stringent COVID-19 restrictions than in states that fully reopened their economies, even though continued lockdown measures don’t appear to be saving lives, an ongoing study by WalletHub shows.
Measures like limiting travel, keeping restaurants operating below capacity and leaving non-essential businesses closed have kept unemployment in New York State among the highest in the nation, while states with fewer restrictions are seeing jobs bounce back faster from the pandemic-induced recession, the study shows.
Tragically, the data also suggests lockdowns didn’t do much to help save lives throughout the pandemic, while it’s clear that they sent millions to the unemployment line.
WalletHub started ranking states’ lockdowns in May 2020, using a formula that assigns a numerical value to mask mandates, large-gathering limits, school closings, “shelter in place” requirements and other measures put in place to try to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The rankings did not account for things like population density, the close quarters in urban households or use of public transportation, all of which play a role in virus transmission.
At the beginning of the pandemic, with the metro area besieged by the virus, WalletHub scored New Jersey’s lockdown measures the strictest in the country, followed closely by New York.
On the other end of the rankings, South Dakota, which imposed almost no restrictions, sat on top of the openness ranking, with Utah second.
Over the course of the year, states imposed and eased a variety of restrictions in response to the level of virus cases and COVID-19 deaths. Where lockdowns were lifted, unemployment fell, but the restrictions didn’t seem to nudge death rates.
By March 8, 2021, for example, New Jersey had recorded 2,656 deaths per 1 million residents, while New York had 2,500 per 1 million residents, according to the Covid Tracking Project. South Dakota had 2,149 deaths per 1 million residents, but loose-rules Utah had just 617.
The study found little correlation at all between the strictness of lockdown measures and death rates.
In WalletHub’s latest calculations from early April, 13 states — including New York, New Jersey and California — plus Washington D.C., still had tight restrictions in place, but were also seeing relatively high death rates.
Meanwhile, 12 states had tight restrictions and low death rates.
Of states with fewer restrictions, 12, including Florida and Texas, had death rates comparable to New York and New Jersey. Meanwhile, 13 states, including Connecticut had both few restrictions and low death rates.
Over the last year, the strictest lockdown states had an average 1,423 COVID-19 deaths per million people, while the lockdown-light states saw nearly-equal average mortality of 1,449 per million people.
Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the CUNY School of Public Health, said the side-by-side comparisons don’t capture all the relevant information that go into evaluating whether lockdowns were effective.
States put lockdown measures in place at different times, or avoided interventions because they were seeing different scenarios play out, he noted. Some shut down with little sign of the virus, while New York had a raging epidemic underway by the time lockdown was imposed.
“What if New York didn’t lock down last March?” he asked. “We would have seen many many more deaths over a rapid period.”
“Context matters,” Nash said.
The data comparing ongoing restrictions and lingering unemployment shows a much clearer relationship.
New York, ranked fifth for its still-tough restrictions, had the second highest unemployment rate in the nation in March.
Connecticut, 11th on the restrictions ranking, was tied for third-worst unemployment with California, ranked second for restrictions, and New Mexico, which ranked seventh for its lockdown measures.
New Jersey was fourth on the list of still-strict prevention measures, and had the eighth-highest unemployment.
WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez conceded that the states with the highest unemployment now were also topping the charts before the pandemic. But, she said, it’s also clear some states have bounced back to a better position than they were in before the lockdowns. Some Midwestern states, “have actually seen a little bit of an unemployment decrease,” compared to pre-pandemic, she said.
Meanwhile, states that imposed severe lockdowns were also the ones that saw the greatest exodus of residents in 2020, according to an annual study from United Van Lines. States that moved quickest to reduce or eliminate lockdowns are also among the top destinations for movers.
The study on state migration found the top states to move away from were New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Connecticut and California, all high-restriction states.
The top states to move into were Idaho, South Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota and Arizona – all except for Oregon categorized as low restriction states by WalletHub.
Ironically, the state with the highest percentage of inbound residents was Vermont, which as of April 6 had the tightest COVID-19 restrictions still in place.